Real and Imagined

Essays and Novels by Amy Tatko

Books: Portals to a Reader's Soul

I am in love with the world’s greatest assassin.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien. Sometimes. She has another identity, too, which I can’t reveal without risking the safety of millions of people. She’s extremely complex, and I met her in my living room.

I met her, you see, in the pages of fiction.

I am reading Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas. I did not buy this book, nor did I find it at the library. I borrowed it from my 13-year-old daughter. It’s the third book in the Throne of Glass series. A young adult fantasy series. With witches and kings and portals that go to evil places, and featuring a totally scary, tough, gorgeous, brilliant, lovable assassin (yup) who wears tunics and capes that conceal numerous daggers, blades, and swords. I adore her. And I adore the two men who love her and whom she alternately loves and hates. I am rooting for her to find the wyrdkeys and conquer the evil king and live happily ever after with... Oh, gods, I’m not sure which guy I want her to end up with. Criminy, and as of last night’s reading, it now looks like another guy is on the scene. Yes: Celaena is one hot number!

I am having a blast with this book, and I could not be more surprised. Earlier this year, as advertised, I read Victor Hugo’s gigantic novels The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. I enjoyed both immensely, and I was delighted to fill in another big hole in my knowledge of literature. Then I moved on to David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and recently I re-read The Odyssey by Homer before my family’s trip to Greece.

And then something totally unexpected happened. A few weeks ago, after decades of reading projects and reading lists, and after several years of methodically making my way through the classics, the so-called Western canon, I had a moment of reckoning: I know literature. Finally! I’ve finally read enough - and re-read enough - that I feel confident in my knowledge and understanding. As a reader and a writer, I now have a strong base - my own do-it-yourself literary education, a veritable homemade Ph.D.! - to draw from. The journey has been as rewarding as the destination.

For many years, I have been alternating between a classic and something modern: Virginia Woolf, then Barbara Kingsolver; Dante, then Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Starting now, there would be no pattern, no program, no project, no map to guide me. Starting now, there would be just me and a world full of books. Pick one! ANY one!

Hmm.

I was in my daughter’s room asking for the book before I knew what was happening. (The assassin would approve. She tends to go with her gut and sort it out later.)

I opened to the first page of Throne of Glass. In an instant, I entered a whole new world, in more ways than one. I felt something move inside my brain. The edges of my mind expanded to make room for something new. In the salt mines of Endovier, after a year of enslavement, the assassin was freed by the Crowned Prince of Adarlan and his father’s Captain of the Guards and transported to an unknown future. These characters were at once familiar and new. Celaena could have walked off the pages of Shakespeare, and her romantic triangle was the stuff of Jane Austen, yet I had never met anyone quite like her, Dorian, or Chaol.

As I raced through the first book, my daughter was happy and surprised. I was in her world! I was reading her favorite book! She provided excellent support when I ached from a character’s suffering, struggled to decipher the latest intrigue, and got royally pissed off at the wicked king and his minions. She watched me fall in love with the book that she loved. What could be better? I am enjoying her books for the stories, the characters, and my experience of a new genre, and I am also enjoying them for the window into her mind and heart, this new opportunity to connect.

I finished book one. Would I read the next book? There are now six books in this series, and next month the final book will be released. Surely, I don’t need or want to read them all. One was enough. I really liked it, and I loved the new tie to my daughter, but I was ready to move on and get back to my “real” reading.

I tried a regular adult literary novel. My usual stuff. Meh. I tried another one. Nothing clicked. It all seemed so boring.

I asked my daughter for the second book. I devoured it.

I am reading the third book now. On my lunch hour today, I walked to the library and asked to put our names on the list for the new book. The lovely children’s librarian said words to me that just a few weeks ago would have meant nothing. Today, though, in my brand-new reading world, her words made me grin with a delicious sense that I was the winner of an amazing prize that everyone wanted:

“Well, it looks like you and your daughter are first on the list.”

We’re FIRST on the list to get the final installment of the incredible Sarah J. Maas Throne of Glass series when it comes out on October 23rd. Yippee!

Dear readers, the next time you’re stuck and don’t know what to read next, ask your spouse or child, your best friend or favorite co-worker, what his or her favorite book is. Then feel the edges of your mind expand a little as you enter a world that you perhaps never expected to explore. And in that world, you may find two gifts: a new book that you love, and a portal into your beloved’s reading world - a world that is intimate and rich, unique and unversal, and full of new chances to connect.

My husband is into detective novels and thrillers. Oh, boy.

My other daughter loves historical fiction. Holocaust novels, here I come!

I think I’ll call my dad tonight. I have no idea what his favorite book is, but I’m about to find out. After I read it, we will have much to discuss. I can imagine his joy.

And mine.

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